Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares Couldn’t Save Zocalo


On March 23, 2012, longtime University City Mexican spot Zocalo was the subject of Gordon Ramsay’s profane intervention on Kitchen Nightmares. “It’s necessary sometimes for someone to come and teach you how to run a business,” Zocalo co-owner Mary Russell told Philly.com a few days after the episode aired. Less than a year later, the restaurant has closed.

We learned on the Kitchen Nightmares episode that Zocalo had driven a wall between husband-and-wife owners Gregory and Mary Russell, who met at the restaurant when Greg was bartending and Mary was in the back making tortillas. They married and bought the restaurant, which was probably the biggest mistake of their lives.

Greg worked all the time and Mary presided over the restaurant in a way that made employees think awful thoughts about her. Their two daughters, who worked in the restaurant, got caught in the middle of the mess. One complained to Ramsey that Mary liked to boss everyone around but not work herself, while the other said that the restaurant was destroying the family.

We also learned that Zocalo was a whopping $750,000 in debt. “They ask me why I don’t just close the restaurant,” Greg lamented. “But I don’t think they understand the implications of doing that. We would lose everything.”

Naturally, Ramsay came to the rescue. He fixed the food. He fixed the prices, which were too high, Ramsay said. And he fixed the family. By the end of the episode, things were looking up.

The official Fox recap sums it up as such:

In the weeks that followed, the dinner services at Zocalo became smoother and smoother… And most importantly, Greg got what he always wanted: his family’s support and Mary back as a true partner.

So much for happy endings.

The Russells did not respond to a call and email seeking comment, and it’s unclear exactly when the restaurant closed. But as of this week, most of Zocalo’s contents appear to have been removed. The website is still up, but the phone number is not working.

A quick review of court records reveals some major problems: a Philadelphia tax lien for $40,000; federal tax liens totaling over $28,000; and a “confession of judgment” relating to the business against Greg Russell for $39,000. And that’s without peeking into the restaurant’s revolving debt, which, at this point, is likely massive.

In case you’re keeping track, that’s 1 for 3 for Ramsay in Philadelphia. Both Zocalo and the Hot Potato Cafe have closed. The Ramsay-assisted Chiarella’s is the last man standing.

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  • RJB

    This whole thing is really sad. I know that Zocalo didn’t do tremendous business in their initial format, but their food was SO much better before Ramsey intervened! Zocalo was my and my husband’s favorite Mexican restaurant for several years…and then Gordon Ramsey happened! I know he’s a well-known chef but, honestly, the British are not known for their great food, and what does a British chef know about Mexican food? He turned Zocalo into Chi-Chis! Unfortunately for Zocalo, they were caught in a “Catch-22” – customers who loved their original menu were willing to pay those prices for that food, but there weren’t enough of us; and attracting customers who wanted lower prices meant cutting the quality of the food–and apparently there weren’t enough of THEM, either!! Sad, sad, sad…

  • FTWN2006

    Zocalo was such a good restaurant. Definitely one of my favorite Mexican restaurant back in the day. Sad to see it go.

  • Wow, I used to go there when I lived in the area but unfortunately rarely made it back when I moved to center city ~5-6 years ago. I wish I had made more of an effort to get back in the neighborhood from time to time. I did notice it was a bit sparse many nights given the seating capacity; for me, the food was good though a tad pricey, but I don’t recall ever regretting a meal there maybe 1 or 2 times out of 40. Lime empanada was awesome, later replaced by some chocolate pastry which was also good. Was a bit disappointed to see the Fundido get changed so much in the Kitchen Knightmare show, from the pics it looked more of a Tostitos dip then cheesy-melty-salty-chorizo goodness wrapped in a warm tortilla(I want to make it at home right now) that was perfect complement for an ice cold beer(IMHO). I like salty, greasy, cheesy but Ramsay tore them up about it. There menu looked more taco/burrito just like any other mexican joint in town after Ramsay, unfortunately I never made it back to give it a try. I think it was a bit overpriced for the college area it was in but perhaps that’s the result of operating at a loss or for whatever reason they ran into so much debt.

    Hope there doing well in there personal lives, or at least as well as can be after losing a business. Good Luck to them and on their next ventures whatever they may be.

  • mike

    Mary seems to be happier if she was the wife of a cocaine king pin, giving orders, thinking shes getting things done, but just a owner trip, lotsa money but no work, just blabbing.

    She needs to find a different man so her husband can find the good wife he deserves.

  • James

    If Greg was a real man he would have put Mary in her place. She needed a dominating man who could put her in her place.

    • LookAtThisIdiot

      I bet you are impotent.

      • whateves

        He should have stood up for himself. She threatened to move back to Mexico if he doesn’t support the family. Yet hes working from 8am-midnight or later and she comes in 3 days a week. A husband and wife need to support each other and if one is slacking then yes that person (regardless of gender) needs to be put in their place. Honestly, she should have just gone back to mexico and let someone else come here at take her place. Someone who would appreciate what they have.

  • Curious Foodie

    There has been activity at the former Zocalo. I wonder what’s going to open in its place?

  • llkernj

    A good restaurant that nobody went to? Sorry, that makes no sense. It was doomed with that much debt, God couldn’t save it.

  • Youre dumb

    Yeah, he’s only the biggest chef in the entire world , what would he know? He’s only traveled the world learning things? Still, he must know nothing because he’s British, fuck you’re ignorant.

  • Mishyana

    The problem with these restaurant rescue shows is that Ramsay et al. are 90% of the time coming in when these places are already 10s of thousands of dollars in debt, if not considerably more, and no amount of cleaning, pep talks, swearing, or remodels is going to make that go away, no matter how warm n’ fuzzy the end of the episodes are.

  • Factor this

    Greg should have chose his wife more carefully and should not have chosen a foreign Third World minority that first worships the ground of a successful American male. Then after the new immigrant gets spoiled being around good quality American standards their emphasis on making a relationship last dwindles. Don’t try to call me a racist you fools. It’s not going to work this time against what I’m saying. Greg should have stuck to his own American Standard women and not settle for something easy to obtain like a fresh Hispanic immigrant which is always looking for a white American successful person to latch onto and suck the life out of and then throw away when they don’t need him anymore. Fact! I’m from Southern California and I’ve seen that happen all around me for the past 35 years! I am sick and tired of seeing good American people being abused by foreign Third World scum people! Yes I said scum people. The definition of the word “scum” is worthless people.

    • Minnie

      You are silly. Simple as that :)

    • Tom MIT

      U r a sad person I feel sorry for u

  • MS

    I saw the show and have dines here too. The partner (aka wife) was a nasty mess and Greg was a mealy mouth and spineless gut … although he seemed nice. Seriously he should have closed the place years ago. The food and decor got old and not so nice after a while anyway. He tried to save it but it was too far gone. It’s pretty much impossible to get off that negative $750 K slippery slope.

  • Landon

    Victor Fiorillo doesn’t seem to grasp the point of the show. Kitchen Nightmares selects restaurants that Gordon can transform so it is entertaining for the viewer. They pick places that serve terrible food, in massive debt, tragically decorated and have a dysfunctional staff or owner. The fact that Gordon can save any of these places is astonishing. He doesn’t select restaurants that need a little tweaking or restaurants that are just ok because no one would watch his show. Victor, get your head out of your a%% and start dealing with reality. Gordon saved one Philadelphia restaurant and it’s hard for me to imagine his advice didn’t help many other restaurants because I personally used his approach at my company to increase annual gross sales by over 30% and my company isn’t related to food service.